UK-Based Channel 4 News Uses Zoom to Create a Seamless Broadcast Experience During COVID-19
As COVID-19 has spread across the world, public service broadcasting has become increasingly important, serving as a crucial resource keeping the public informed while they are in quarantine. However, the pandemic has also presented some unique challenges to broadcasters, many of whom rely on a tight-knit studio atmosphere and the ability to closely coordinate the efforts of their staff to produce a great show.
UK-based public-service television network Channel 4 has leveraged Zoom alongside other solutions to continue delivering the news, even with its staff working remotely. Martin Collett, programme director at Channel 4 News, and Jon Snow, presenter at Channel 4 News, shared their journey to Zoom and how the platform enables them to deliver a professional newscast during this challenging time.
Pivoting to a work-from-home broadcast environment
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Channel 4 relied on the well-coordinated efforts of its production team in the studio. However, due to social distancing requirements that were put in place after the coronavirus began to spread, Channel 4 was forced to reduce the number of staff members in the studio for the safety of the crew.
“For the past few months, Channel 4 News has been operating on less than a third of its total workforce in the newsroom through illness and isolation. With staff working remotely on a major scale while introducing social distancing in a newsroom normally buzzing with interaction, we’ve had to change the rules of getting the programme out each night,” Collett said.
The journey to Zoom
To coordinate the efforts in the studio with the presenters working remotely, Channel 4 leveraged autocue software to deliver scripts to presenters during the broadcast. However, effectively delivering the autocue to the presenters was a challenge due to the high latency and complexity of the available solutions.
“When we realised that we needed to remote-present, I had to rapidly evaluate a range of streaming solutions to get autocue working with a minimal delay to the presenter,” Collett said. “I piloted a number of video conferencing services, but none could deliver the sub 1-second round trip delay that is essential for reliable autocue. Zoom gives us the low-latency video connection, and also a low-latency audio return path so the operator can listen directly to the presenter. It means that Jon can rehearse scripts with the operator whilst other sections of the programme are on air. Before lockdown we did have a number of autocue solutions that we used for remote presentation. However, none are as easy to implement as the Zoom feed. Presenters can set it up themselves, and once it’s running there is no need for any further intervention.”
Creating a seamless broadcast with Zoom
Zoom’s unrivaled reliability and ease of use give the production team greater flexibility and the performance it needs to create seamless, professional news broadcasts.
“With Zoom, I know the presenter is reading the script that I can see on the screen in the control room. There is less room for error — the presenter is much better connected to the studio,” Collett said. “Last-minute changes to scripts (we have a lot of those) are always reflected in what the presenter is seeing on their autocue.”
Snow added: “Zoom enabled Martin to drive the programme from our headquarters, whilst I conducted interviews and read the news from my home in London. Not only was my autocue text delivered from London, but I was also enabled through Zoom to see and hear the people I was interviewing clearly and in real-time. In effect, Zoom managed to recreate the very conditions that I have had in the studio during my 31 years of anchoring Channel 4 News. Zoom gave me confidence and certainty and enabled me to work from home with no diminution of service.”
Zooming into the future
Channel 4 had to rethink its approach to broadcasting and develop clever solutions to address the challenges posed by the pandemic. In the future, the teams at Channel 4 predict they will use the techniques and skills that they have developed during this time to optimize their operations and create new experiences for their viewers.
“I’ve just come out of the gallery where we were recording an interview that used three simultaneous Zoom calls – one so we could see the guest, one for Jon to see the interview at his home presenting position, and a third so that the producer who was editing the piece from his home could see the interview, too. We’ll carry on with many of these techniques once lockdown is eased,” Collett said.